Destroying the Message of Guilt and Shame

“I know that there are also people who aren’t malicious, but are simply lacking in empathy. I know that there are some people who mean well, but are unfortunately clueless and oblivious.”- October 13, 2015
Rebecca Prewett, Rape Survivor

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-3‬ ‭

The other day, I met a woman who asked me why I was so positive. (My kids would laugh at this statement.) The compliment was nice to hear, because it meant she was seeing Jesus in me. I used the opportunity to share Jesus with her. Our conversation led me to understand that her belief in God was tied to her belief in the church. She began to share some of the pain she had been through in her life. She had endured a cheating husband, which led to a toxic marriage. She was raised Catholic and felt that she needed to forgive and keep trying. The more she tried, the more he cheated and bullied her. The guilt of failure made her stay in a one-sided marriage. Finally the pain was to unbearable and she divorced him.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:1‬ ‭‬‬

When I asked if she was still attending church, She looked down to the ground and with sadness said, “I cant handle the way I am judged by the Church. Guilt and shame tortures me enough.”

This was so painful to hear. Jesus came to remove the stench of our past and create a new life for those who surrender their lives to Him. The cross of Christ does not judge us, but frees us from the burdens of our sins. So many Christians are living with the shame and guilt of their past, it blinds them from focusing on Jesus. They can’t comprehend what it means to fix your eyes on Jesus.  It is easier to believe the demonic lies that Satan whispers to them; the fear based lies of guilt, shame, and condemnation. Many believers live in an identity crisis. They do not know who they are in Christ Jesus. Their identity is in their past, not in the future God has for them. She was discouraged and depressed, she thought God’s love was conditional. I encouraged her, shared the truth of God’s word and poured His eternal love into her.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:4-5

When it comes to guilt and shame it takes several conversations before an individual can began to understand what Jesus did for them. Many people read the Bible and all they see is condemnation. Jesus understood shame. He understands our shame. Jesus was stripped of all clothes, hung on a cross completely naked, fully exposed for all to see. He was abandoned, dehydrated and weak. The crowds mocked Him and laughed at Him.Their ridicule was cruel. In the passage at the top it says that Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame. Don’t be fooled; this was a form of sexual abuse. The crowds were like a rape gang encouraging the torture, of God’s Son, adding to the shame Jesus felt. They cheered and celebrated His suffering. The Roman Crucifixion was a perfected art form of torture and humiliation.  Jesus was beaten, tortured, humiliated and shamed for our sins, our shame and our humiliation. All of this He endured for us; to be the author and perfecter of our faith in God. All for the joy of reconciling us to God. In His death and resurrection, Jesus freed us from the bondage’s of our past. His blood washed away our sins, guilt and shame.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17

Christ removes the old and makes things new. The Gospel is not about shame and guilt. Jesus died to remove the stain of it from our lives. The church is the bride of Christ, it is not meant to be condemning and judgmental. Followers of Jesus should be encouraging and loving, sharing the message of reconciliation. Philip Augustine a writer for jessicahof.blog  writes that Church attendance and those who claim to be christian has fallen significantly. I believe this is because we have failed to present a clear Gospel message of hope and salvation. We are using far to many commentaries and man made theologies instead of the scripture. The Gospel of Jesus provides hope and salvation, it empowers, forgives and demonstrates love. It is embodied only in Jesus Christ and His word. This is why we need to know the Bible, which is the Word of God.  His truth freed us. (See my blog post Are You Being Guided by Truth?)

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:37-39‬ ‭

There are those who promote their view over the scripture, they promote a “False Gospel”. (See: “The False Gospel We don’t Talk About” By Lisa Robinson) These are the ones who shame and guilt you into a religion that is not Christianity. There are also those who unintentionally lead people to hurt and depression, It is because they lack the love of Jesus. Many claim Jesus, few know Him or his love. In their own selfish pride, they destroy lives.

“I know that there are also people who aren’t malicious, but are simply lacking in empathy. I know that there are some people who mean well, but are unfortunately clueless and oblivious.”- October 13, 2015
Rebecca Prewett, Rape Survivor

The Bible speaks of a great deception that will cause many to fall away from Jesus. Some will leave because of hurt, and others will leave because of lies. Jesus will never be the reason. Let us not be deceived. This is why we do not put our faith in pastors or strange teachings but in Jesus Christ and the truth of His Word. We need to endure in our Bible reading and in seeking the truth of His kingdom. We need to endure in our love for one another. Endurance is a proof to your faith.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4

The quote was from the blog Prone to Wander. This is a tough subject, please let me know what you think.

–Stephan

Keep Your Life Calm With Love

Let’s be honest with each other; the world today needs love and needs to know God’s love.

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Everyday I hear the comments from liberals and conservatives wondering why we can’t get along. Interesting enough each group blames the other. Each side claims the other group is rude, angry, intolerant and full of hatred. I realized some years ago, what ails America is a lack of love. This is why we are a sick nation. I am not talking about tolerance, I am speaking about genuine selfless, patient, love. All sides of the hostile American political system are missing this. In the above passage, the word flesh is to be understood as your selfish desires. Paul, who wrote Galatians, was stating that all of God’s laws were directing us towards love. Those who love God, let His love fill their lives through Jesus. It is through His love for us that we are able to love one another. Christ demonstrated that love by willingly sacrificing His life on the cross for us. Those who really follow Jesus as their savior understand this and live by it. Yes, I am making a clear distinction between those who follow Jesus and those who claim to be Christians. Jesus also made the distinction.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

What does the love of a true Christian look like?

Paul makes that clear as well; we are to serve one another. It does not require a rocket scientist to figure this out, but love that serves does so without a self motivated agenda. It is compassionate, patient, forgiving, and gentle. True love never speaks a harsh word, it never responds out of anger or hurt. The one who serves others encourages and builds up. This was demonstrated to us by Jesus. This is how we, who claim to be Christians, should act. Study the death of Jesus. Show me the harsh words He uses. You will not find them, because Jesus came to serve. Jesus came to love.

45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Paul does give a warning in the passage from Galatians. It is the warning that every American needs to hear. It is a message to every person who claims they are good. It is a warning to the prideful and the arrogant. Read it carefully.

15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:15

There seems to be a push by many Americans for violence. Violence will not solve anything. It will result in the death of millions. Innocent people will suffer, especially children. Violence, anger, hate will consume and destroy us all. This is why we need to love. Love never fails. Love always wins. So love deeply and love often.
P.S. To the people of Singapore I love you and am praying everyday for you. May the love of Christ fill your hearts with joy and peace. May you endure to the end. Run the race with everything you have until you fall into the arms of Jesus.

Are You Being Guided by Truth?

Reading the Bible needs to be at the forefront of what we do in life.

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭NASB)‬‬

A while back, I posted The God We Should Worship . The purpose was to bring some clarity to the incorrect understanding that Muslims worship the same God as Christians. The central argument is that Christians worship Jesus because He is God, the Triune God. This is the core of Christian belief. We get this theology from the Bible. Jesus made this claim several times. Muslims view Jesus as a mere prophet whose teachings they regularly ignore. The differences between Islam and Christianity are apparent. One only needs to read the Bible to know that there is no grace of God in Islam. Grace is a character of God that he reveals in the Bible.  Through the scriptures, God reveals Himself to us. I have found myself in awe of God as a result of seeking Him. One gets to know God by studying the Bible, memorizing scripture and praying. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. The more I love Him, the more I desire to be in His presence. I love him because he first loved me. For God is love. It is in His love for me that God reveals His Divine character of truth through His word.

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him”.(John 18:37-38)

The whole world claims we want truth, honesty, integrity, and transparency. The fact is that most people don’t even seek it. They personally don’t want truth to interfere in their daily lives. They don’t want truth to destroy their misguided conceptions of life. Most people would rather believe lies about themselves. They live in the guilt and shame of their failures. They can’t comprehend that God could love them. The truth of God’s word, tells us that He loves us. Those who truly seek truth become doers of truth. The person who does not apply the word of God to their lives is failing to live a Christ centered life. If you are not reading God’s word, you can’t apply it. If you are not reading and applying the Bible to your life; your Christianity is worthless.

“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (‭‭James‬ ‭1:21-22‬ ‭NASB)‬‬

Are you of the truth? Do you hear the voice of Jesus? Jesus told Pilate, that everyone who is of the truth hears His voice. If you don’t read God’s love letter to you, how will you distinguish the truth from a lie? Are you listening to the stranger’s voice? Examine your life for a moment. Is your Christianity weak? Do you struggle with your walk with God? Are you focused on loving Jesus or are you living in doubt? There are things that you can do to draw closer to God.

  1. Ask God for help. Seek His wisdom.
  2. Read the Bible everyday. This is critical. It’s good to have a plan. Write down what you learn. I journal through my Bible Everyday
  3. Memorize scripture. Take time while you are standing around and memorize scripture. (I use an app called fighter verses.)
  4. Pray. Write down your prayers and your answers .  If you have a hard time praying, pray through the scriptures. (Try the Psalms)

God loves you! Let God’s grace shine on you. Seek His truth.

I Need to Know the Cost

The cross shows us our value to God. It demonstrates God’s love for us and how precious we are to Him.

We despised him and rejected him;
he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him—
we ignored him as if he were nothing.
“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
made whole by the blows he received.
(Isaiah 53:3-5)

I do not consider myself a poet, that word belongs to those who dedicate themselves to that art. This past year, I have had some amazing times with God and have been  inspired to write some of my thoughts down. I am confounded by God’s love for me. It overwhelms me at times and leaves me drenched with love, understanding and awe. On one such occasion, I wrote the following poem:

I Need to Know the Cost.

I need to know the painful cost,
of the blood He shed upon His cross.

So gruesome a price Christ did pay, His life, our sins He did slay.
Unworthy of Him who bore my sin.
All for love my soul to win.
His body so broken, His flesh torn to shred.
My life to be saved, with his blood that was shed,
I need to know the epic cost, of the life Christ gave upon His cross.

Lead me to the everlasting way; that my heart will never stray.
Fix my eyes on the eternal one, so Christ can finish this race I run.
So precious is your love for me, in Jesus name I am free.
Grow your love in me; still more, so others will see the cross you bore.

Oh Holy Communion remind me still,
of the precious blood that was spilled.

Repentance I need for my sorrowful sin.
His body so broken for my soul to win.

How precious is the life Christ gave, by grace and love, my life to save.
I need to know the painful cost, of the life we hung upon that cross.

Lead me to the everlasting way; that my heart will never stray.
Fix my eyes on the eternal one, so Christ can finish this race I run.
So precious  is your love for me, in Jesus name I am free.
Grow your love in me; still more, so others will see the cross you bore.

© 2018 Stephan Caraway. All Rights Reserved

Final Thoughts: Since we are approaching Palm Sunday, ask yourself the following: Is your love for Jesus real, is your praise genuine or are you just a fan?

A big Happy Birthday today to my hero, friend and the best sister in the world. You  inspire me with the way you live a conquering life for Jesus. Happy Birthday Rebecca!

Depression and the Christian Faith (Pt. 2)

Representing Jesus, in a worthy manner, while enduring painful trials; should be the goal of every Christian.

Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart is appalled within me. (Psalm 143:4)

For the past few years I have been absent from writing, not because I wanted to but because I couldn’t. It has been difficult dealing with depression, I have felt so suffocated and at times very paralyzed. In order to deal with my depression, I had to prioritize what was important in my life and remove the things that interfered with surviving. This sounds brutal but it was necessary.

Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8)

The first priority was seeking God to bring me through this nightmare. I did not want to lose my ability to show kindness and love during my cycles of depression. I knew that maintaining my relationship with the “Great Physician” was key to battling the waves of anxiety and sadness. At time this was a chore; forcing myself to read the scripture and praying, when all I wanted to do was to vegetate in the corner of a dark closet. These quiet times were so valuable to me, the time spent with God gave me the strength to endure another day of pain and misery. God also gave me the ability to push through with a measure of love and kindness that was not my own. The Psalms were and still are a great comfort to me.

Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)

The second priority was family. I did not want to let down my wife and children while under the crushing effects of depression. I look back and am amazed that I was diligent in going to work and providing for them. This was clearly God’s love for me. I know that if I had not been consistent with prayer and the scripture, things at home would have deteriorated quickly. I did not want my illness to be an excuse for sin. I still had to honor and love my wife and children. As I look back I can see how God just filled in when I thought I had no more strength to make it through a day. But by honoring my commitments, God honored me. I truly felt the shepherding hands of Jesus lifting me up and prodding me to get through each day.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits. (Psalm 103:1-2)

The third priority for my life became a commitment to health and mental health. Jesus made it clear that our bodies are a temple in which God wants to reside. We must take care of our temple. Diet was an integral part in fighting depression. I removed some of my favorite foods and saw a marked improvement. I also made a commitment, with the supervision of a doctor, to take medication. The key is to be honest with your doctor, it is not shameful to take medication. You may have to adjust what you take, but stay with the program. Family is a great motivator. My wife was amazing in her support of me. She really worked with me on meal plans and encouraged me in being consistent in taking my medication. The love I have received from my family has made this journey enjoyable. My kids have actually loved some of the changes. We have learned to love new health choices in our diet such as Yucca Root, Turmeric, and Arugula. Cooking with the kids has become a real joy and an adventure. It is quite encouraging to focus on the benefits of your new diet and celebrate the victories, rather than mourning the changes.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The Lord’s loving-kindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

It is important to prioritize the energy that gets you through each day. I could not endure this affliction without Jesus. My walk with him will always be a priority, because of His love for me. When you do struggle; ask God for strength and He will provide.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the Lord(Lamentations 3:24-26)

The proof of our faith is not the trial, but it is in the manner in which we deal with it, and in the way we represent Jesus to the world while enduring the trial. Love is always the proof of anyone’s Christian claim.

Depression and The Christian Faith

2016 was one of the most difficult years for me. It was a year in which I faced incredible stress and heartbreak. It was also the year that I faced my depression.

I have not been able to blog for quite a while. A few of you have contacted me to find out why. This last year I have had to deal with my depression. I ignored it to long, and I believe that God finally made me face it. I actually believed that my relationship with God was at its best point in my life. I was enjoying daily devotion time and really learning so much. But God wants us to face the truth about who we are. I wanted to deny my depression, after all how can a Christian be depressed? For me this is what I struggled with for the past few years. I wondered if I was failing God. I would agonize, “Where was the Joy that was supposed to come with being a follower of Jesus?” Instead of dealing with the depression, I would make excuses, blame others, or just live in denial. This year my depression took an ugly turn. It came in so hard and deep that I could hardly function. It suffocated me. All the things I enjoyed in life were gone, I could not see any optimism or hope. I would find my self weeping for no apparent reason. These struggles would often lead to emotional out burst of anger, fear, anxiety and deep sadness.

My wife finally had enough and let me know that she was no longer going to tolerate me if I was not going to get help. She began to detach herself from me and our marriage. Over the last few years I had failed to realize what a toll my depression had placed on my wife. I had ignored the pain she had to endure.

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 NLT)

Depression is not a sin

The first thing that I had to realize was that depression was not a sign that I was failing God or that God did not love me. There are many examples in the scripture of people who fervently loved God, but suffered from depression. Elijah and David as well as the Apostle Paul all endured periods of great depression. Philippians seems to be a letter written specifically for those enduring depression. The word Joy is one of the most underlining themes. It is full of encouragement and reminders of God’ faithfulness. One of the Psalm’s that has helped me the most is Psalm 143. This passage has become a rock for me durring the last year. I find myself praying this Psalm to God at least once a day.

Once I realized that my depression was not a sin, I did have to come to grips with the fact that the results of depression can lead one to sin, in the way they treat others. Some of the sins that I struggled the most with were fear, anger, selfishness, pride and intolerance. As I look at this list I am filled with great shame. I never realized the pain I was causing others. A person who is dealing with depression often fails to see the sins that are doing the most harm in their lives. This is why it is important to get help.

Stop blaming others and circumstances and just get help!

My life is extremely stressful, so it was alway easy to blame my behavior on stress, or on someone else. When I finally agreed to get help it opened my eyes to a lot of things that I had been ignoring. It also helped me to understand what was contributing to my depression. It turns out that my liver is a major contributor to my depression. So along with medication, I have had to change my diet. This is not easy for me because I love to cook. I have gone to a gluten free, dairy free and night shade free diet. In other words a twig and tree bark diet.(It is really not that bad; but there are so many foods that I had to give up.) I have had to give up tomatoes and potatoes and all peppers as well as bread and dairy. The diet has been brutally tough; the food I am willing to sacrifice, but my marriage and devotion to Christ, I am not. I have had to learn to cook in a whole new way. It has actually helped both with my depression and relationships with my family. My children have become quite excited about trying the different dishes that I prepare. My wife and I have become much closer and have really developed much better communication skills.

God wants us to grow in Him. My counselor reminds me every session of Psalm 139:23-24. It is a verse that every follower of Christ should pray and meditate on each day:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

You may not realize how your behavior is effecting others, so please seek help, repentance, forgiveness and  most of all, trust in God’s plan for your life.

 

Enduring and Persistent Communication…

“No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.”
― Martin Luther

IMG_2236.JPG

Recently I wrote about what to do in the midst of The Crazy Chaos of a Busy Life… Prayer is the most important tool we have. Most people fail to use it effectively, if they use it at all. The following passage explains a few of the attributes effective prayer should have.The follower of Christ should not wait for difficult times to pray, We should pray in preparation for them.

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,  saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, Give me legal protection from my opponent.’  For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.”And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said;  now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Prayer is effective communication with a responsive God who has the desire to have a relationship with you. E.M. Bounds once said, “The [prayer] closet…is the battlefield of the Church; its citadel; the scene of heroic and unearthly conflicts.” The fact is that many Christians take prayer for granted. Why are we failing to pray? A pastor once told me, that the most difficult event to get people to come out to was a prayer meeting. He mentioned that he would be lucky if 10 people showed up out of his thousand member church. We wonder why there is so much evil in the world, yet we fail to pray. In this technology era of texting and twittering there is very little deep emotional conversation that takes place. In the same way that it affects the natural world it is also affecting the spiritual world. Recently, articles ranging from CNN to The Huffington Post discuss the dangers of losing face-to-face communication. ( Too Much Texting Could be Harming Your Relationship ) This lack of communication is also affecting the way people are praying to God. Are your prayers becoming like a twitter post to God? Are your prayers enduring and full of conviction or are they soulless babble? 

Let see what Jesus wants us to learn about prayer.

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,(Romans 12:12)

God wants us to have enduring prayer times. Luke basically gives the parable away by telling us what it is about. We are to pray at all times and not to lose heart. Pretty simple idea, so why do we have such a hard time with it. Texting allows us to cut out the chit-chat, it keeps our interactions brief and to the point. We have even reduced whole sentences to a simple emoji. Because of the influence of social media and technology we are failing in our interpersonal communication. In this same way, we have reduced our prayers to simple sound bites. God wants enduring prayers. A person who is devoted to prayer, perseveres through difficult situations and rejoices in the hope that God provides.

We need to devote our selves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

He wants us to have deep conversations with him, prayers that take time. God wants to hear our problems, sorrows, our brokenness, our praise and gratitude. This takes time. God wants our time. The problem with society is that if we don’t have a result from our communication we move on. Our impatience and our need for results drives us away from God. God is not going to solve your problems with a Twitter response and an emoji. He wants to transform your life and behavior into something beautiful. What excuses do you use to not pray? Is your prayer effective? Are you enduring in your prayer time? God wants you to be persistent in prayer. Is your love for God evident by the way you pursue Him? A person with a committed prayer life has direction and purpose. That person is led by God to level ground.

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.(Psalm 18:6)

God wants heartfelt prayers. God wants us to pray from our heart. God wants us to reveal our deepest pain to Him. The widow was crying out for justice. She was praying with conviction. Do you pray this way? Abraham Lincoln said this,“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
Because God loves us, He wants to hear our concerns, our problems, our needs and our joys. God is love. He knows what is happening, but He is relational. It is when we communicate our thoughts to God that He reveals a better path for us. He opens our heart to his will. It is through this time of heartfelt prayer, that love grows inside of us. God is the source of this love, it is His perfect gift to you. Do your prayers flow with love?

By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

Enduring prayers of conviction breeds faithfulness to God. Jesus reveals the character of God in this parable. Persistent prayer reveals justice for the oppressed who follow Him. God is faithful to those who are faithful. The word Elect is used to describe those who follow after God.

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16b).

This is not our righteousness but the righteousness of Jesus Christ that abides in us. It is not a matter of just believing in God, but it is the constant state of mind to be chasing after God. I would often ask myself, “How can I expect to have an enduring and persistent prayer life if I fail to have an enduring and persistent relationship with Christ?” For most of my life my prayers were short and brief. I just wanted to get to the point. I always wondered why my relationship with God was so weak. I now realize that I had it backwards. My Prayer time was what grew my relationship with God. I needed to humble myself before God and confess my wrongs to Him. Prayer is communication. Can any relationship grow without enduring and persistent communication? Just ask any marriage counselor and they will tell you that without good communication your marriage will fail. The same is with your relationship with God. To have an effective relationship with God you need to pray and your prayers need to be persistent and enduring.

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.(Psalm 145:18)

Does your prayer time carry your faith in difficult times?  Jesus ends the parable with a question. He is referring to His second coming. When He returns, Jesus asks, “Will he find faith on the Earth?” Is your faith evident by your prayer life? Do people refer to you as a prayer warrior? America needs revival. The Church needs revival. The only way for revival to come is through enduring and persistent, heartfelt communication with God. This is what prayer needs to be. It is time for the Church to pray. It is time for the followers of Jesus to be driven to their knees in prayer. We need to bring our brokenness, our tears, our confessions to the cross of Jesus with enduring prayers. Oh men and women of God I plead with you; pray, pray and pray some more.

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:7)

Holy week

“The truth is that we need reminders. We need to make the gospel, the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, as personal as possible. We need to remember. We need to set aside the business of our everyday lives, and allow ourselves to walk through the events of Holy Week.”–Rebecca Prewett

Before my evangelical friends wonder if I have become Catholic, I would like them to remember that Jesus told us to remember what he did. I know the writer of this post personally and can attest to her deep devotion to Christ as her personal Savior. She emotionally reminds us to not casually dismiss what Christ did. We gratefully talk about how Christ rose from the dead. We appreciate the Miracle of His Resurrection, but do we realize what a miracle it was for Christ to suffer the way He did. Think about it. Look at the love Jesus showed in his suffering. The greater miracle was the compassion, the love, the consideration, the gentleness and the self-control that Jesus demonstrated in the midst of His incredible suffering. Could you do this? Every Christian needs to be aware and deeply ponder this incredible non-human act, during this very Holy Week.

Do You Repeat The Same Mistakes?

Christ took our sins and the sins of the whole world as well as the Father’s wrath on his shoulders, and he has drowned them both in himself so that we are thereby reconciled to God and become completely righteous.–Martin Luther

IMG_2093
Skyline Hiking Trail Photographed by Stephan Caraway

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Timothy 6:11-14)

My life has been a series of struggles. I have always wanted to follow Jesus but for many years I just lived in failure. Then through a series of encounters with God I began to understand. A few years ago this passage revealed the hope of having victory over my failures to consistently follow Jesus. My hope was not found in my actions, but in the holiness of God and what Jesus did on the cross. It is all about God’s love for us.

The people of Ephesus struggled, like most people today, with doing right by God’s standard. The fact is that Christians are not perfect. We sin just like everyone else. The difference for Christians is Jesus. When we choose to have a relationship with Him and acknowledge our wrong doings, He wipes our sins away. Through Christ, God forgives us. It is all about Jesus, His love, the price He paid, His Righteousness and His Kingship. Paul understood that his disciple Timothy was not perfect. He knew that Timothy would struggle with his faith. The struggle is actually good. It is when we are not bothered by our sin that darkness prevails. God knows that we are flawed by sin. That is why Jesus came. God loves us and wanted us to have hope, the hope of being saved from our failures that separate us from God. That Hope is in Jesus Christ.

So why do Christians seem to struggle with repeating the same sins over and over again? It is in this passage that Paul gives Timothy some very important keys to overcoming the sins that abuse us and drag us away from God.

…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:22)

The first key is to run from your old life. We need God’s strength to do this. Paul tells Timothy to flee from from wrong doing. He even advises Timothy earlier in the letter to avoid false teachers, people who lead you astray. This can be extremely difficult and even painful. This means that you need to allow the Holy spirit to remove everything that distracts you from having an effective walk with Jesus. Paul wrote in Romans:

Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

Think of it like this; while you were at work, if you took personal calls through out the day that kept you from doing your duties, would your work performance be effective? Could it possibly impede your production and lead to termination? Of course it would! It is the same for your Christian life. Confess to God, what you know is wrong. Get rid of relationships, habits and activities that keep you from God. Ask God what distracts you from him. Pray that God will break those habits and activities that drag you back to your old life. Rely on the Holy spirit to guide you.

Early in my marriage I realized that I had a serious problem with video games. They kept me from praying, reading my Bible and they were wrecking my relationship with my wife and kids. My video game friends and I talked more than I did with God or my family. I realized that I had put games before God and my family. I was selfish. Today if you walk in to my home you will not find a video game console. Every once in a while I find myself tempted by the illusion of that old life, but the fulfillment I have in Christ is far more satisfying. Run from your old self and pursue Jesus and what He has for you. Let Him Give you rest.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

The second key is to pursue the gifts God has for you. Paul gave Timothy the next key in overcoming sin. He says, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness”. Let’s be blunt here, if we could achieve these on our own we would not need Jesus. Humanity is flawed and depraved and we cannot achieve perfection. We are devolving into a crueler, more violent species. Society is imposing less restraints upon us, while encouraging our worst instincts and behavior.

This is why we need God. Throughout the world no matter the country or race people seek God. It is in our genetic code to desire a relationship with him. God wants us to be better than we are. That is why Jesus came and gave his life for us. It is God, through what Jesus did on the cross , who provides our righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. None of this can be achieved by us. It was achieved on a blood stained cross by the perfect Incarnate Christ. So Paul is telling Timothy to pursue Christ’s Righteousness, Godliness, Faith, Love, Perseverance and Gentleness. God gives them to those who follow Him, who pursue Him. They are the perfect gift and they only come from Him. Pray and ask God to help you! These gifts come through sorrowful repentance and prayer.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

The third key is to take hold of Jesus. This is where things get really exciting. Paul tells Timothy to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called”. Eternal life comes from one source, Jesus. Jesus is eternal life. Take a look at the passage below:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:1-6)

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He was calling people to follow him. We are not to follow some ideals, or a political leader or even a pastor. We are to follow Jesus. My dad always told me not to put my faith in him or to place my salvation in his arms. He warned me that one day he would unwillingly let me down. “Follow Jesus,” my father would say. “He will never let you down.” (Note: My father has yet to let me down, but my actions did hurt him quite a few times. I have always seen Jesus in him.)

Jesus is perfect. He is without sin. He experienced the violent, cruel world of humanity. He came into this world willingly, to give us life. If we want an abundant life that is eternal, then we must take hold of Jesus. Jesus is life. He can give life to our weaknesses. Are you following Jesus or are you just a fan? Are you leaving the old life behind like bad garbage? Do you really know Jesus? Ask your self, “Do people see the love of Jesus in me”? Take hold of Jesus grab onto him. Surrender everything to him. He is the one who defeats sin, not us. He is the one who raises us up when we fall. It is when we experience the power of Christ in our lives and his transforming love, that we should share what God has done.

The right hand of the Lord is exalted; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord.
The Lord has disciplined me severely,But He has not given me over to death. (Psalm 118:16-18)

The fourth key is to share publicly what God has done for you and be accountable.

Paul reminded Timothy about the confession he made publicly. There were many witnesses to the declaration that Timothy made, to follow Jesus. Testifying to what Jesus has done builds your faith up. It keeps you accountable. Yes it does put a bullseye right on your back, but that is the whole point. Jesus put your sins on his back and nailed them to a cross so that you could have life. Be bold in testifying to what Jesus has done. Let everything in your life point to Jesus, every word and every action.

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (1Peter 3:15-16)

** Authors Note: Sorry for this long post. It has been in the works for 4 months. This may sound like a doing and striving post, but it is not. It is all about Jesus and what he has done. It is His work on the cross. You may be exhausted with your life. Let Jesus take your troubles let him give you rest. May God bless you and give you the endurance to run the race! Take hold of Jesus! God Bless.

 

Is There Proof that You Follow Jesus?

The gospel of a broken heart demands the ministry of bleeding hearts…We can never heal the needs we do not feel. Tearless hearts can never be heralds of the passion. — Dr. John Henry J. H. Jowett

Cleveland National Forest--Skyline
Does your life bear fruit? –Cleveland National Forest.

Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8)

Jim has become a good friend of mine. I have had the privilege of watching him grow in Christ. Early on he struggled with his decision to follow Jesus. He would not follow through on commitments and he would often slip into the bad habits of his old life. It was a challenge to lovingly encourage him. I did not want to come across as judgmental. The reminder of my own failures gave me the patience and love to build him up in his faith. God kept reminding me not to “fix” Jim. The Job of life changing transformation belongs to Jesus. My Job was to point to Jesus and to encourage him.

One day Jim was with a client and out of the blue, the client turned to Jim and asked him, “How long have you been a follower of Jesus?” Jim was stunned. He later asked me, “How did he know?”

That leads me to a few questions that I have been asking myself for the last few years. Do the people I know, see Jesus in my life? What evidence is there that I am not just a “Christian”, but an active follower of Jesus? What is the Proof of my faith?

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Which of these sins do you struggle with? When looking at this passage, there are a few of these sins that we can cross off our own”naughty list”. But lets be brutally honest about the ones we tend to ignore. Do your Facebook rants make you look like Jesus or the Devil? Do you love to create arguments or do you create peace? Does Jesus approve of your sex life, or do you toss him aside for a moment of lustful pleasure? Does your behavior prove that your really love Jesus, or does it prove that you are a fake Christian?

A few years ago, God convicted me that my political discussions on social media were doing more harm than good. I was more concerned about convincing people to follow my political view instead of following Jesus. Politics had become an idol. I had more faith in a political solution than in a spiritual one. With a deeply repentant heart I gave up the belief that “great men” could solve America’s problems. Man is flawed and needs God. Only through repentant sorrow can God change the heart of a nation. The only way to save America is for her people to turn from their own selfishness and rush towards the cross of Jesus with a repentant heart.

Paul warns us that if we continue to practice the deeds of the flesh, that we will not inherit the kingdom of God. So what should the proof of our faith be like?

It is a faith that bears fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)

This is what a follower of Jesus demonstrates on a daily basis. These are the gifts that God gives us when we allow him to change us. They are the character of Christ that shines  from with in, as a beacon of light to a dark world. The Christian turns hurt into God given love. When trials overwhelm the day, God provides our joy and peace. We show patience to the impatient. We are to be good and kind to those who are not. We are faithful to those around us, because of God’s faithfulness to us. We should exhibit gentleness to a violent world and self-control in the face of an angry one. The true Christian places his desires and passions at the foot of the cross. These gifts come when we seek God and ask him to transform our lives. They are the fruit that we bear and the proof of our salvation in Jesus. If you lack these characteristics in your life, ask God to help you with them. God knows that we are flawed, and  in spite of our flaws He loves us.

The real proof of your faith is found in love and the fruit that you bear. Are your friends overwhelmed by your love? Do they know you, by Christ in you? Do they see God’s love in you?

 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)